Sweating drops of blood

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I freaked out the other night.  Didn’t dare go to sleep.  Too scared to go to sleep.  Yet sometime in the early hours I must have dropped-off.

I have seen a few blogs leading up to this-almost-Easter remark how the bible tells us that Jesus sweated drops of blood.  I have no idea how you sweat drops of blood.  Never have and hope I never will.  Never wanted to emulate that element of God Soft Hands Jesus .

But I get the imagery.  That he was freaked out.  Scared.  Terrified beyond scared.

In these times where death stalks silently … without regard for power or privilege – irrelevant to age or health – with and without apparent logic … I get the reality of facing death.  A painful death.  A death where saving my life might be judged less than saving another.  A death where I will be alone of family and friends.  Will be buried without fanfare or closure.  May even become a statistic.  Probably a painful blot more than “normal” on the lives of those I love.

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This Easter we each face death no matter how complacent of our own immortality.  A death unlike the story books.  No concerned family around the bed.  No quiet conversations of comfort.  No tender looks and gentle touch.  No dignity.  Nothing of how we imagine our final breath and words to be.  If you have read the accounts of death by Covid19 they are not a death I would wish on anyone.

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The cross I was taught was fact.

Now I care not whether fact or fiction – real or imagery.  This Easter I begin to understand a little better.  Better than from the comfort of a polished pew in a heated sanctuary surrounded by like-minded (and healthy) congregants.  Each of us with a shiny silver nail as a prompt to enter the rose-tinted sentiment-imagination of death by cross.  A death that was also a “respiratory illness”.  Of lungs that collapsed as breathing became something he used to do.

We are well into the annual debt-fest of Easter.

But this Easter I feel no noble sacrifice.  I sense no honour or dignity.  I have no gratitude or debt.  This Easter I look up and see me and see you.  All of us caught up in something we wish we were not.  All part of a journey beyond our control.  This Easter I see a man not God.  This Easter I see friend not distant deity.

This Easter I care not if it’s a master-plan of foretold prophecy … no interest in debate of a PLAN A or PLAN B … no annual pining to feel even a little of what “our Lord” suffered “for me”.  This year I wonder whether any of that really matters – whether so much of this “rose-tinted and sentimental” bible teaching really matters.  This Easter I crave not the immortality of eternity in some imagined “heaven”.  I pray not for the “second-coming” to save me from all of this.   Right now I see no “sin-filled world” wallowing in its own depravity – about to get the come-uppance “they” deserve (and which I as a good Christian will escape).

This Easter I pray for one more day – lots of “one more” days – right here with those I love in this world that is precious and resilient – a world so beautiful and forgiving of our thoughtlessness.  Right now I want to be with those I love rather than in separate homes.  I want to hug the lady I love rather than have to keep half a house distant.  I pine for the touch of skin on mine: a handshake – a hug – a cuddle – a rough-house … For the breath of a grandchild on my face – even the snot of a toddler to wipe clean – and oddly a nappy to change – I imagine not really caring if that mug of tea was mine or yours.

Sweating drops of blood.

Mine?  Freaking out and not daring to go to sleep for a few hours.  And yet …

Perhaps this Easter my connection is closer than ever.  Perhaps this Easter I need no shiny nail – no like-minded congregants to surround me.  Perhaps this Easter I “get” a little better what the bible invites me to get.

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This world is beautiful.  This world is home.  This world is precious.  This world has everything I desire. 

This world is a world I wouldn’t choose to exit.  This world – and this virus – cares not what I believe nor which religion I claim nor the future I teach nor those I label as good or bad.

This virus is teaching me – maybe all of us – just how much we are ALL connected whether we choose to or not.  How we are ALL the same no matter how much we protest we are not.  How Love really IS the greatest of these – and just how living in the moment of a touch or a breath or a glance CAN BE the eternity of “heaven” I never usually notice.  This Easter I feel closer to my immediate AND global family than ever.

And isn’t THAT the real message of Easter?

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I got saved and then found I wasn’t

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Terry Waite, 1,763 days as a hostage in appalling conditions just told us all to stop complaining: “Change your mindset”, he said, “you’re not STUCK at home, you’re SAFE at home”  #TerryWaite  His advice? *Keep your own dignity – get out of your PJs!  Form a structure for the day.  Be grateful for what you have – shelter, home, possessions.  Read and be creative.”
(facebook and – I guess – twitter)

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Last night reminded me what normal is right now.

8.00pm ... I was hanging out of an upstairs window joining in the applause for all our carers.  Listening as many in our street were on their doorsteps doing the same.  Those in surrounding streets doing the same – the “sound” of respect, affection and gratitude rippling everywhere.
8.10pm … as I walked our dog, I crossed the road – streets silent again – because I could hear young children ahead playing near the pavement.  I have no wish to come close to anyone who might (unknowingly) infect me with this globally-connecting virus.
8.40pm … reading on facebook of our niece 300 miles away is posting pictures of their newborn – a new life born unknowingly into all this topsy-turviness.
And now continuing my “shielding” and living a life with Mrs Paul six feet apart and in different rooms.
Typing these words is normal in a time that is anything but normal.

You’re not STUCK at home, you’re SAFE at home.

I don’t know about you, but I find kindness is thriving right now.   And yes – I see the headline stories about the “me me me” peeps – the “fuck you” peeps – the peeps “taking” entitlement – bullies then as now.

But kindness …

I am allowed to be kind.  I am allowed to be gentle.  I am allowed to be the better me so much more than before … I am seen when I acknowledge another, when we move apart, when I thank another for moving apart … When I wait a few seconds when – before – we would both have squeezed-by without waiting at all … When I speak gently with a harassed call-centre peep after two hours in the phone-queue … When another asks if we need anything left at the door … When Mrs Paul asks if there anything she can get when she is out at the (two hour queue to get into every) shop(s).

Little things.  Small kindnesses.

I am allowed to be kind right now unlike “normal living” when these small kindnesses go unnoticed (and undone) as we hurry hither and thither.

Be grateful for what you have.

I have no optimistic outlook that says when all this returns to “normal” we will want to carry this kindness forwards.  I have a view that says we will each count up how much kindness we have “given” and instinctively calculate that we “deserve” a withdrawal of “books-balancing self-centredness”.   That we will again live transactionally (which is what we call normal living) …

The church will again expect Sunday attendance and tithing.  Work will expect more from each employee in return for being “looked after” right now.  Banks will impose severe credit checks after current government “guidance” to be more financially forgiving.  Mortgage lenders will recoup the losses of all the “holidays” us lenders are being given.  The government will begin to balance the books with more (decades?) of austerity (again).

Change your mindset.

Isn’t that what “being saved” really is?

Less about being rewarded for sacrificing “so much” – more about how I live right now?  Isn’t that the reality we never teach?  That the bible is not about the future – but about right now this second.  About “changing you mindset” right now and in every moment of living.

And isn’t that a universal across national-boundaries-and-social-rules – across cultural-divides-and-language-confusion – across financial-worth-and-“stuff”-wealth?   Isn’t that where kindness lives and love thrives?  In a mindset NOT of transaction – but a mindset of this moment.  A mindset we are seeing more and more of right now.  Of courage in kindness and strength in gentleness.

Be grateful for what you have.

The more I live the less complicated life becomes.  The simpler the bible becomes.  The less rigid and institutional “love” becomes.  This moment is a gentle place, a kind place, a loving place.  Where time and stuff is of no consequence  (nor religion nor being right).

I got saved and then found I wasn’t.

Not until I changed my mindset.  And that’s why I no longer call myself a Christian.  I don’t think the bible teaches us to be good “Christians”.  I think the bible invites us to change our mindset.  It is what we are seeing everywhere right now.  Living in the moment.

I call that Love without Condition.

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Love is allowed … wow!

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This weekend will be the first weekend of enforced (or voluntary) isolation.  For many still working (remotely, on-site, or any other way) these two days are when we “do stuff”.   Stuff usually outside the home – stuff together – the stuff of getting-together and being together.

Usually.

This week has been frantic!  A week of work trying to find assistance for the temp-team we pay week after week after week.  Who were told there is no more work as London offices shut their doors (literally).  A bunch of wonderful (and skilled) human beings whose contracts are for “services provided” rather than for “employment”.  And so are left without any financial aid.

As they have watched those who ARE employed OR self-employed being helped.

These are real people we “employ” in all but contract.  Whose tax we sort out, whose sickness we sort out, whose work problems we sort out, whose names we know, and whose lives we are part of.  People who look to us to “fix this” for them as we fix things every week.  People we know as colleagues, friends, and superstars.  People we have seen grow in their “temp career”.  And yet all we could do was work feverishly behind the scenes trying to bring their plight to the notice of those who can offer aid.

We were not alone in that.

Temp workers (with contracts “for services provided”) number many thousands.  Yet “our temps” are not numbers.  Every “temp” is a person who knows us as we know them.  What a privilege that is!  What a compliment to be more than a source of income.  What an honour to be part of their lives in a personal relationship.  And – in times like this – what a responsibility to provide more than “our doors are now closed”.

>>> On Thursday we called every client to find out how they were coping.  I came away humbled.

Every organisation has done we have done: dispersed its staff to their own homes with the equipment and connectivity to carry-on.  Almost every organisation is “business as usual” – just without any confidence things will stay this way.  Expecting and receiving the trust that – even though now “out of sight” – each person continues to bring the same commitment – that people were expected to do the right thing and are.

None of that has made the news.  Just as no organisation has bitched at the cost of money, time and energy to make THIS happen.   And THAT is unprecedented – that is GOOD NEWS – that should be recognised because that is ALSO each of us helping each other.

These five days have seemed a month.  But yesterday we were told our temps would be supported the same as the employed and self-employed.  So the next five will be as frantic making that happen for these real people.

THIS is not about making a profit (although it soon will be).  This is about helping each other survive and perhaps even thrive (in “non-balance-sheet” ways).

This week I have walked our dog to the applause of strangers on their doorsteps acknowledging the human beings of our National Health Service.  I have witnessed queues an hour-long of “socially distanced” human beings waiting patiently for their turn (and beginning to find shops fully stocked again).  I have seen billions (of every currency) committed to supporting almost every sector of society.  I have walked under skies free of the usual vapour trails down streets quietened of their usual traffic through parks where we each say hello (as we keep our distance).

And I read of death coming ever closer to our front door.
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I wonder if this is a time for faith rather than a time for love. 

Because I see love in every sector of society … “#clapforcarers” spread from Europe just as this pandemic spreads … recognition that THIS is about all of us is spreading FASTER than any pandemic … Love is being displayed in so many ways!  So if I have faith and you different or none …

Does THAT really matter? 

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I look out and see so much kindness being ALLOWED!   

By street and community … by country and continent … by this culture and that …

Kindness is being allowed … LOVE is being allowed!  

And, whilst I have nothing against “faith” (and live-streamed services and fellowship), isn’t THIS bigger than THAT?  Isn’t THIS when “the greatest of these” CAN be unleashed AS the greatest of these (just without the usual small-print)?

Some see the end-times.  Some see gathering in church to be immune.  Some believe immunity because of faith.

I see Love.

I see Jesus seeing Love as I see Love everywhere right now.  I see the bible as inviting each of us to pick up Love in preference for our comfort-blanket of faith.  I see this not as the end-times but as a time where Love is Allowed.

Death will always be us.  And I am taking all the precautions I can to be of Life.

Life that sees video calls allowing a new silence.  Where filling the silence is irrelevant.  Where hide-and-seek with a wee one can be played by pointing the lens at a wall before “suddenly” appearing with a “BOOH!”   Where “being” is becoming fashionable again.  Where “virtual-being” is becoming the same as “face-to-face being” … gentle and unhurried.

I am learning how to be the me I want to be even in these new and changing times.

And that is a precious gift!

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paulfg

Wrong shape, wrong, size, wrong “something”

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I can think of a handful of people who changed me.  Outside of immediate family that is.  People I met.  People I hadn’t known before or knew after.  Who came into me life and left leaving me changed.  Family I think of – in this context – as the soil, the air, the sun and rain.  But those who enter and leave again – they are sowers of seed.

Jesus is a sower of seed.  The bible is a seed.  Church and church life, all the fellowship, community, programmes and “service” are the environment.

Those people who changed me didn’t know they had or did.  Sowers of seed don’t start with that expectation.  They live with hope.  Hope that something good might come of what they sow.  Hope that some might allow that seed.  Allow a personal fermentation and sprouting.  Because a seed can live for years in a sterile environment.  An environment that keeps a seed a “seed”.  Never taking root, never dying as a seed to become something greater.

Sowers of seed cannot dictate the environment that seed finds.

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I think that is where we struggle with church life and “religion”.  We confuse seeds with environment.  We think we can grow crops, we think we can modify seeds to produce greater fruit, we think we can count the seeds we offered as plants that we grew.  But no one has ever “grown” a seed in me.  I do that.  I am the environment in which a seed lands.  I am a sterile environment or not.  And sometimes seeds can rest within me for years untouched and unnoticed.  Until I am the right place and time for that one small and tiny seed.

For me the bible is a seed.  And when I try and live in that “seed” I confine both myself and the seed.  When I live for the bible and of the bible I don’t become the great big tree in which others live – I become tiny like the seed itself.  Scared of change.  Scared of becoming something bigger than I think I could or should.  Scared of being something that looks different, that smells different, that thinks differently – that is different from the seed.  That must be different if the seed is to be anything other than a “seed”.

I see that same confusion with the coronavirus.  We are scared of change.  Scared of the unknown.  Even when the unknown is not that different to the known: that those who live with less health and greater age live a more precarious life (despite medical science and miracles).  But our usual repressed fear sprouts in such times.  We are scared we might be without.  Scared we might not have all the comforts we regard as essentials.  We remain seeds scared of what might “get us” – scared of all that is outside our comfort zones.  So we withdraw (prep and panic buy) and isolate ourselves (literally in some cases).  We pull-in and focus on “me me me” even more than usual.

That has comparisons with the church life and religion I have known all my life.  Because against all the taught “advice” of a lifetime … the more I don’t read the bible – the more I know the bible.  Just as the more I don’t read all the panic news about coronavirus – the more I know the virus (and I am one with “underlying issues” and “age category” against me).

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Just as against all the taught advice of a cultural-Christian lifetime, the more I don’t go to church the freer I am.

Free of the constrictions of guilt.  The guilt of am I doing enough – am I a good Christian … ?  Free of the constriction of faith – a constriction of believing the same as others  … do I fit-in (so that I can make a difference) … ?  Free of the need for compromise between family-who-won’t/don’t and church-life-that-does/must … How much do I give and to whom and how and when … ?  Free of a diary always being double-booked and massaged …  Free to allow “seeds” to grow as big (and as weirdly) as they allow.

As I allow.

I read that @ 30% of farm produce never makes it off the farm and into our shops.  Wrong shape, wrong, size, wrong “something” … all because it won’t look the same as “proper shaped and correct size” stuff (we do see on the shelves). 

I find that horrifying. 

That we talk about saving the planet and climate change and plastic … yet 30% of the very fuel of life we keep out of sight and discard.   And yet that 30% comes from the same seeds as the “proper and correct” ones.

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The seeds I have allowed make me who I am.

I have no idea if I am of the 30% (wrong) of 70% (correct and proper).  But why is that even relevant?  I am who I am.  And more and more I find the moment to be seeded with all I need. 

For that is where Love lives and growth happens.

If I allow.

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Binary choices

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I was taught that computers work in binary – 1 or 0
I was taught computers can do stuff but not like we can
I was taught we are far superior to computers in so much
I was taught computers do the bean-counting

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Yet the more I see, hear, and feel
The more I think it is not that
The more I see, hear and feel the more
I think we choose to become computers

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We love binary.
We love either 1 or 0
We love black and white
We love a yes or no “issue”

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We are either right or wrong
Correct or incorrect, false or true,
Saved or unsaved, lost or found,
Good or bad, church or unchurched.

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We have stopped saying “I Don’t Know”
We have a problem with saying “Sorry”
We reject the in-human-ity of computers
Yet copy so much of what we program.

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And if it be true that we become what we think …
I think we fearfully choose to become

Artificial (1) 

Intelligence (0) 

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Letting the rest “rest”

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What might Christianity look like if the Gospels had become ink before the Epistles?  … “The Good News” – Andrew Blair

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I have heard many “let’s go back to The Early Church” exhortations.   I have thought it myself.    Seems to me that replacing much of the “Temple Industry” practices/preferences still endemic in religion today with a “pure” faith (like what Jesus taught) to be an exceedingly good idea.

Except at what point do we drop the flagpole of The Early Church … ?

Before or after The Cross … Before or after Paul … ?  If before The Cross where would the “The Big Reveal” of evangelising be?  And if after … would that be before or after The Ascension – and if after how much after – and if before … why?

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What might Christianity look like if the Gospels had become ink before the Epistles?

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What a profound question from my blog partner!

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For The Early Church was riddled with as much dissent as we have now – just that we prefer to paper over the cracks as we do today.  The Early Church writings have as many tellings-off and “scandals” as today.   The same “role model” churches as today.   As much missionary work as today.   A Head Office structure just like today.   And – just like today – it was (and remains) a numbers game …

“How many have you brought me?”

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I think it another good reason for going bible-blind.  For being selective not in finding proof-verses that kill debate, but in finding the essence of the bible and letting the rest “rest”.

We are addicted to bible study, bible teaching, bible preaching.  We have created an academic-theological language more complex than the most difficult of The Difficult Verses.  We have idolised the verses of burden and sacrifice and hardship and persecution – idolised the verses of soul-saving-counting – made it all such hard work!

We have gone bible-blind in the same way as we have gone Love-blind –  we read the bible and prefer to see darkly – we cannot live without sin and choose to Love sparingly.  And we have that wonderful mantra written on the hearts of every believer:

“We are all but sinners saved”

Which is the get-out-of-jail-free-card used again and again as an excusing of our own weaknesses (or addictions) – along with the superstition at the end of almost every prayer “… in the name of Jesus we ask, amen”.  Or else we won’t get what we ask for!

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What might Christianity look like if the Gospels had become ink before the Epistles?

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I think worth thinking about.

Thank you, Andrew.

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Religion like in the good old days

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HEADLINE: “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace”

OPENING CONTENT: “The religious landscape of the United States continues to change at a rapid clip. In Pew Research Center telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade.”

Who thinks Christians are a Resource …?

The samples from these political polls are not as large as the Landscape Studies (even when all of the political polls conducted in a year are combined), but together, 88 surveys from 2009 to 2019 included interviews with 168,890 Americans.

So let’s slice and dice …

Religious “nones” are growing faster among Democrats than Republicans, though their ranks are swelling in both partisan coalitions … Furthermore, the data shows a wide gap between older Americans (Baby Boomers and members of the Silent Generation) and Millennials in their levels of religious affiliation and attendance …  The data suggests that Christians are declining not just as a share of the U.S. adult population, but also in absolute numbers …  Catholics no longer constitute a majority of the U.S. Hispanic population …  There is still a gender gap in American religion …  Religious “nones” now make up fully one-third of Democrats …  The religious profile of white Democrats is very different from the religious profile of racial and ethnic minorities within the Democratic Party …  The share of U.S. adults who are white born-again or evangelical Protestants now stands at 16%, down from 19% a decade ago … 

 

In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace

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Is this what it’s all about?
The labels and percentages.  The numbers and the affiliations.
Keeps them from seeing Love.
Keeps you from being Love

You think you are persecuted?
You are a Resource.

 

 

Just like the good old days.

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